Gettting Out of Your Color Comfort Zone

“Using strong color can be a high-wire act, says Amanda Nisbet, author of Dazzling Design, but if you can keep your balance, the effect is transformative.”

Start with a color you love and experiment with other colors to establish a color palette.  This room has a pinkish-orange wallcovering, with 2 shades of green fabric accents and an animal print, with a neutral chair and floor. These colors are perfect choices, harmoniously used to accentuate the window view.

A living room designed with turquoise in mind.

The color is subtle on the textured swivel chairs but shows up much stronger in the accessory pieces in the shelves. The sofa throw adds color and texture to the neutral leather sofa and the book covers offer more accents of turquoise-and some pink to repeat the colors in the painting.

Whatever color scheme you choose,put something black in every room. A black  lampshade, a black box on a table, a black picture frame. Black clarifies all the rest of the colors in the room.  

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The Klismos Chair…we are seeing it everywhere !

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Designing with Asian Influence

Asian style home décor is a style that reflects the interior design of China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and other Easter cultures. The most recognizable design styles are Chinese and Japanese.

Many Asian themed rooms are a combination of two or more cultural influences and should be used in an eclectic style, not as a pure style that is strictly representative of a region, culture or country.      

 Chinese Design

Chinese interior design favors bold colors and ornate furniture, carvings, lacquer and embroidery are all common facets of this style. Animal scenes from mythology and homage to ancestors are all commonly represented in this type of interior. Murals, folding screens and large plaques are also common. 

Red is a prominent color. Other bright colors such as yellow and green are also used as accents. Wood tones tend to be dark and rich in color. 

Chinoiserie is an art form where furniture and accessories are patterned after the detailed embellishments and complex decoration of Chinese designs. It was originally popular in mid 1800’s Europe.

Japanese Design

Japanese design favors more cool colors and minimal decorations.  Wall décor is often minimal. Brightly colored walls are avoided. Emphasis is placed on simple architecture.

Natural materials are preferred, such as tatami mats (supple straw mats edged in cloth which measures 3ft. x 6ft.) and silk. Bamboo, stone and other natural materials provide the basis for a soothing color palette of brown, gray and green, soft floral patterns and colors are incorporated with decorative pottery and embellished textiles. Plants may also be used to blur the lines between interior and exterior space as well as indoor water fountains. 

Furniture is carefully constructed, but has little adornment. Furniture and accessories tend to be clean-lined and geared towards living near the floor of room. Japanese style is particularly appealing to modern and minimalist design fans. Simple elegant floral arrangements such as orchids and bonsai add a graceful touch.

Tips to add a touch of Asian design to your home:

  • Woven sea grass blinds & roller Shades. Hunter Douglas.
  • Woven wood & bamboo shades. Hunter Douglas.
  • Flat weave sisal rugs.  Great with fabric borders.  
  • Shoji screens.
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Mixing It Up- Pairing The Old And The New

A mix of antique furnishings with contemporary art or furniture gives a room a distinct layered and interesting look. Old and new pieces need to be paired thoughtfully in order to avoid a cluttered, disjointed,  uncomfortable room. A room of antiques can be highlighted with contemporary accents or a modern room can include antique pieces.

The settee, pedestal table, horn-and- brass side table and rug are all from the 1800’s. Artwork by David Carino.

If the room’s interior leans toward traditional and classic, contemporary artwork keeps the mood fresh.

A 1950’s chair in Fortuny fabric is paired with a striking, striped shade and a 19th- century rug.

The mahogany-and-steel  platform bed skillfully contrasts contemporay design with older wood pieces. The bedside console table and mini-dresser are arranged in layers-a clever pairing of modern and antique pieces.

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Mid Century Modern Design

What is it about the postwar era that keeps pulling us back? The 1950’s hold a special place in America’s collective imagination. The things that are attractive are not particularly stylistic but have more to do with values. It’s a broader issue, that for lack of a better word we say the 50’s because the closest we can relate to it are feelings that we haven’t had since then. The mythology of the time looms so large that even the generations that did not live through the era yearn for it today.

This living room by Michael Berman reflects many mid century styles and materials. Notice the swivel chair with the nostalgic hounds-tooth  upholstery.

A fusion of nostalgic design and up-to-the minute functionality-often referred to as retro modernism – is a strong trend at the moment. Retro designs are also a rejection of the 15 minute shelf life of most trends. The interest in mid-century modern design reflects a desire to get away from the dourness of minimalism toward a maximalist, joyful aesthetic. These backward glances help to ground us -and they’re there when we need to be reassured that technology can never replace human beings. Nostalgia is important to the process of style and design. Without nostalgia, there is no closure and no way to move forward. 

This bedroom design by Michael Berman reflects his signature style as “American trans-modern.” The ivory-lacquered bed and night table are by Michael Berman for his Elgin line of furniture. The carpet of many colors is from the Rug Collection by Paul Smith for the Rug Company. At the foot of the bed two vintage Chinese stools are topped with green faux-crocodile pillows.      

As the 20th century has ended, objects from the postwar years to the 70’s have joined pieces from the 20’s and 30’s as coveted furnishings and collectibles. ” They are the new antiques ” according to New York City antiques dealer, Alan Moss . “For the last 20 years, we’ve been in a retro phase that started with things from earlier in the century and has finally crept up to the 60’s . Though nostalgia contributes to the appeal, design is the main attraction . The best examples tend to be sculptural and whimsical or deliberately plain. The look is comfortable and approachable, yet elegant in its simplicity.” __Chicago based furniture designer Holly Hunt.

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It’s Transitional

Transitional style is emerging as a strong force in furniture and interior design. It is a clean, look that references the past but looks a bit traditional with a modern twist or a bridge between traditional and contemporary.

In the early 90’s when multifunctionlism was all the Rage, “transitional” was used to describe pieces of furniture that could change function: A desk in a small city apartment could be used as a vanity later in a large house. Before that, “transitional’ referred to specific historical styles that combined elements of styles that preceded and followed them; For example, Regency was a transitional style that combined elements of Louis XIV and Louis XV.

21st. century transitional is fresh and distinctive, not a hodgepodge mix of old and new.  The scale of furniture is larger and the lines are simplified, featuring either straight lines or rounded profiles. A transitional chair might have wood legs and brass casters that resemble a classic club chair but the seat will be deeper and it may have a more interesting shape to the back.

Transitional style uses mostly neutral colors, with other colors playing an important, but always subordinate role to create a serene atmosphere.
Example: Dark brown adds depth to a neutral balance of a color scheme of taupe, tan and ivory.

One way to create a transitional room with color is by using warm beiges, grays and creams on walls, window coverings and large furniture but vividly colored prints on accent chairs. When you see color in a transitional room, it is just one color, or plays off one color. There may be bright orange but only in a bookshelf, painting or piece of sculpture. Fabric can range from graphic patterns on over stuffed sofas to textured chenilles on sleek wood frames. Other good choices for transitional space are soft ultrasuedes, and pliable leathers.

A disciplined or somewhat minimalist approach is taken with carefully selected accessories for this style. A lack of ornamentation and decoration keeps the focus on the simplicity but sophistication of the design.

As for comfort, the room must be inviting. Emotional comfort is also the key in transitional style. What ties everything together are the simple, clean lines. It is truly a style – a definite look.

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Wabi Sabi – The Art of Everyday Life

Wabi Sabi first appeared as poetic references in Japanese literature and is defined in English as the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete…a beauty of things  modest and humble and unconventional. This concept has now been incorporated into the international world of design.


Wabi has been defined as tranquil simplicity, unpolished , imperfect or irregular beauty, rusticity; things in their simplest most austere state.

The 17th century cobblestones above were culled from a street in Portugal. A collection of 19th century yellow pottery from Provence is shown beneath a stone sink from a French 17th-century monastery.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” -Leonardo DaVinci


Sabi has been interpreted as the beauty that treasures the passing of time. It also has been defined as the patina that age bestows.

The owner of this kitchen in the chateau of Menou, central France, wanted to re-create the atmosphere of his grandmother’s kitchen in an old service room. Some things are displayed and others hidden, yet the proper place for things is often a question of time and the harmony of furniture and utensils which have a shared history.

“Fewer and fewer Americans possess objects that have a patina…old furniture and books, grandparents’ pots and pans … the used things, warm with generations of human touch…essential to a human landscape.” -Susan Sontag.


“By two wings a man is lifted up from things earthly : by simplicity and purity.”-Thomas A. Kempis


“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty EVERYWHERE.” -Vincent Van Gogh


“Language has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.” -Paul Tillich


“When you can think of yesterday without regret and tomorrow without fear, you are near  CONTENTMENT.” -Unknown


“In everything, no matter what it may be, uniformity is undesirable. Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth.” -Yoshida Kenko

This room features a Chinese meditation chair and a 19th-century gilded French chair-both in harmony with a Japanese cabinet with black mohair pillows on top, with the look of a high day bed.

“It is through creating, not possessing, that life is revealed.” -Vida D. Scudder

“The greatest wealth is to live content with little, for there is never want where the mind is satisfied.” -Lucretius

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Books As Accessories

In spite of the many news reports that books will soon  become obsolete and face tough competition from e-readers and the web,  books will always play an important role as design elements for the home. The use of beautiful books as accessories and  personal treasures for the home will not disappear. In addition to their educational and recreational value, books are also psychologically revealing accessories and evidence of bygone interests and tastes.

A home’s library can be an enticing escape. Bookshelves should  be arranged so that the shelves are as interesting as the book titles. It is not necessary to buy expensive imprints or throw out battered old favorites. Work with what is already owned so that  personal interests are reflected. 

Weave things in with the books. Objects have stories too. A mix of textures such as ceramics, leather, wood, metal, and small paintings or artwork add style and interest.


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Hollywood Regency Design

This high glamour and glitz style originated in Southern California in 1930 and remained popular through the 1960’s. The signature look was pioneered by the work of  William Haines, and consequently also emerged through the work of  Dorothy Draper and Elsie de Wolfe who decorated the homes of film stars of the golden age of the 1930’s.

With its roots in 19th century England, the style combined English, French, Regency and Greek Revival styles with the glamour of old Hollywood. Furniture designer, Jonathon Adler describes it as “ornamental minimalism”, because it combines clean lines with decoration. It is exotic and fanciful but very modern.”

Personal dressing area designed by Mimi Williams.

The design elements include lucite, lacquer, mirrors, faux furs, plasterwork, leather, latticework, velvet, silk and satin  fabrics, glimmering chandeliers, topiaries and thickly sculpted rugs.

As an offshoot of the Art Deco style, curves, geometric patterns and luxe textures were widely used.  Other examples of the style are Chinese Chipendale pieces, vases in organic shapes, pillows in graphic patterns and tufted furniture.

The color palette revolved around white, cream, and black. Like any great movie, Hollywood Regency is a style that will continue to be revisited and remade.

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Wallpaper Revival

Gone are the flowers and borders that were popular in the past. What we now see as emerging wallcovering trends are sophisticated designs such as tone on tones, subtle metals,  pearlized finishes and  softer geometric designs with an edge.  Texture has also joined the revival with an emphasis on natural materials. Faux finishes such as stucco and leather are often used in casual rooms.

Unique designer wallcoverings are being produced in a wild array of materials and textures- faux fur, beaded glass paper, woven fiber and stitched paper.  

For those who still desire a formal, traditional look, there are enlarged versions of traditional prints such as damask, that create an updated but serious look to the past.

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